In a statement released today, the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education (BBA) urged Congress to make comprehensive supports for disadvantaged students the highest priority when reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). BBA is a diverse and bipartisan group prominent scholars, superintendents, civil rights and religious leaders, economists, sociologists, health care professionals, and others concerned with the education advancement of disadvantaged youth.
No Child Left Behind—the previous iteration of ESEA—ignored poverty-related barriers to success for American students, schools, and districts, and lawmakers should not make the same mistake in the upcoming reauthorization effort.
“While setting high, meaningful standards for all students is important, we assert that reaching them requires, first, laying the right foundation,” the statement reads. “Failing to lay that foundation is more likely to widen current gaps than to narrow them. We must reduce the emphasis on narrow test-based accountability, which will not achieve our goals, and distracts attention from the real issues at hand.”
The statement notes that poverty and disparities in social and economic opportunity are at the root of gaps in academic achievement, and that a reauthorized ESEA should address these disparities through:
- funding and incentives for universal access to high-quality early childhood education
- provisions that help states, districts, and schools narrow provide nutrition, health, wellness, counseling/guidance, and mental and emotional health supports
- ensuring sufficient, quality time for all students to learn in creative, engaging ways while protecting teachers’ time to prepare and collaborate
“While discussions regarding ESEA reauthorization have brought some welcome skeptical attention to tests and concern about their misuse, the core impediment to educational improvement remains student, family, and community poverty. Education policy must address the challenges many students face from being disadvantaged,” said Elaine Weiss, National Coordinator of BBA.
The statement recommends that testing and assessment be used to identify problems and improve instruction, not evaluate teachers or students, as test scores are more closely correlated with family income and community context than with the input of teachers or schools.
“The failure of our educational system to help even the playing field for children growing up in poverty and children of color is, indeed, the civil rights issue of our time,” said Pedro Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University and Co-chair of BBA. “This statement reflects a growing consensus that, absent a strong, coherent set of supports for the growing number of American children who lack them, Brown v. Board’s mandate for equity will remain elusive.”